Playdough Figure [Contains Difficult Subject Matter]

I’m not sure when it started.

Maybe it was the day in health class when we had to write down what we ate for breakfast, and the teacher said that cereal and a glass of water wasn’t sufficient. Maybe it was when Mrs. Smith explained to the class, while staring at me, that people could be skinny but unhealthy at the same time if all that they ate were cookies. Maybe it was when my best friend told me the others were asking if I was anorexic. Maybe it was when he yelled, “Jesus Lana, when did your thighs get so big?” 

Every day:

I have my dresser door’s mirror open and another one leaned against the wall. Side view and front view. Lights on. For the millionth time I see the pale figure stare back at me. It has a little bit bigger of a stomach than I remember. My face contracts at the sight of the kiss that the tight jeans have imprinted across the skin canvas, emphasising the areas lacking perfection. Twist and turn. A hand grasps the hips, pulling at the handles anxiously. The bumps that scatter the figure’s backside pinch at my heart. I swear I’m imagining the lines that reveal the presence of an under-worked muscle. I rush to drape the figure with fabric. Anything to hide the humiliating sight.

Good. That’s better.

Bad day:

The cafeteria doors swing shut behind me.

Okay, so two eggs, one grapefruit, some raspberries, a mini-croissant – a fucking mini croissant. And to add to it a mini muffin – I could taste the vanilla in that one, and I’m sure it was artificial.

My heart is in the pit of my stomach along with the huge breakfast I ate as I push my way to class. One by one, they slowly fill the spaces around me, each of them falling elegantly into their seats. My eyes linger on Nicole’s ash-blonde hair and light-blue eyes, Amanda’s breasts spilling out of her shirt against her slim torso, Simon’s perfect smile, and Ruth’s bronze ringlets falling evenly at her shoulders.

I avoid my laptop’s reflection.

“Lana, you would be so proud of me! I went to the gym and had the healthiest breakfast! I’m almost on your level,” Amanda chimes.

The mini-muffin flashes before my eyes. I feel sick.

If only they knew.

I want out of this classroom, now. The walls are too close and I can feel my skin poking out of its jean prison, taunting me for not working hard enough at the gym last night. The washroom is calling me, begging me to just pull the reset trigger. How simple that would be. Except, lucky for me I haven’t been able to throw up in two years. It doesn’t matter how hard I try.

Bad day:

It’s Saturday, and the line is moving slowly; I guess everyone wants to buy a cute fall outfit. Waiting for what feels like forever, I catch sight of the figure again. I did not remember its legs being as thin as rakes. Bile rises in my throat. The figure has sunken eyes and thin hair, and its clothes are hanging like sheets over its skeleton. I don’t understand. I’m horrified. Everyone is horrified, I realise, becoming aware of their stares. When did my wrists become so small?

“Next please! Name?” announces the change-room lady.


“Number?” she asks.


“Okay, let me know if you need another size!” she offers. Another size? Oh my God, what if they don’t fit? The figure is now staring back from every direction, surrounding me in this suddenly claustrophobic space. Sharp edges poke through the figure’s frame. Tears well in my eyes.


I walk out of the room like everything went well, and smile at the lady as I hand her back the tight crop-tops and jeans. I keep the scarf; I buy the scarf. I like layers.

I see the figure in every reflective surface, and while walking past the shops, I sneak a peek at it when I can. This one looks normal with her hair cascading down her back. The other’s hips are a little too curvy. Another has no ass at all. Dark blue circles are drawn under another one’s eyes. The voice in my head is loud, no matter which reflection I see.

Was the muffin really necessary?

Bad day:

The music of the party is loud. My hand is burning from my ice-cold can of carbonated water and lemon-flavoured vodka. My eyes linger on the bags of MSG and artificial flavours scattered around. Nope, no chips - the cooler already has extra calories that I shouldn’t be having. The tang of barbeque flavour lights up across my tongue anyways. My tongue’s memory is too good. It remembers back when ponytailed-me didn’t even realise the weight of thinking about everything you ate.

I take another sip of the vodka-water, and the pit in my stomach intensifies. I focus my gaze on Jules instead. Her stomach flat against the lace of the shirt she’s wearing. More vodka slides down my throat in an attempt the put out the flames of jealousy. My smile holds a happiness that my eyes don’t reciprocate - they’re too busy projecting the image burned into my memory from last week, when that lace shirt was curved along the mound of flesh resting on the lip of my jeans. 

Good day:

I slide a second layer of skin on. The figure and I smile at each other. A crevasse travels from the figure’s rib cage to its stomach, flat against the spandex. An essence of fitness illuminates the figure’s silhouette. Triumph and pride clothe my heart. I feel like taking on the world. The music spilling into my ears has me on a high, and I run. I run past all those treats I shouldn’t have eaten, past the treats I wanted to eat.

Bad night:

It’s 10 o’clock. It’s Friday. My bare body rests on the laminate flooring that decorates my room. It feels good to be free from the cages of fabric. Black and gold lace lay at my feet. I can feel the cookie I ate today moving around my system. I swear my stomach feels bigger. I hate myself. I hate my lack of control. I hate cookies. And I hate going-out clothes that only flatter those girls.

The scissors on the counter look sharper than normal. Mom says to just keep eating well and be active. What if this is the day that it is too much? What if I hate myself just enough this time?

Another day:

Today, the figure isn’t anything special. A finger pokes its side, sinking into the pile of playdough. Faint ab lines are painted on the figure’s stomach. I throw on a shirt and pants. I rush to breakfast and grab some peanut butter vegan toast.

Ugh, I should have eaten more.

Ugh, I shouldn’t have eaten so much.

Another night:

My covers hide my failure. The darkness helps too. My mind is resisting the relief of sleep. Okay, so breakfast was bread, peanut butter, banana, grapefruit, and blueberries; lunch was some veggies, some rice, some curry, a packet of fucking mini cookies again, and almond milk; dinner was a pita and two pieces of dark chocolate, and—the list is too long and my heart crumples from the weight of it. How could I have been so reckless? This is why no guy even looks at me twice; this is why Sam broke up with me. I’m gross.

My self-hatred kicks me and I curl into a ball beneath the duvet.

My self-hatred chokes me ’til my eyes spill liquid disappointment.

I escape into the darkness of sleep, where the figure can’t follow me. When I wake, the dresser door is open and the other mirror is leaned against the wall.

Side view and front view.

Lights on.

Just another day.